It’s a wild country from Antwerp to the the college town of Leuven and unfortunately four of the group did not make it.
I was excited to tour Leuven because my family has attended the university. Both my parents went to KU Leuven (my mother from undergraduate to PhD, and my father just for a one year masters). And my cousins went to Leuven for Computer Science.
The EU, again
The second obstacle was finding the room in KU Leuven in which a professor gave us a talk regarding foreign policy in the EU. Perhaps a bit dry for first thing in the morning but the professor was very enthusiastic which was encouraging.
One of the major benefits (or potential benefits) of the EU is that a unified Europe can execute a stronger and more effective influence and relation abroad. Strategies, policy, and negotiations completed with the entirety of Europe are much more significant than a single nation basis. This is why Europe an gave advantageous trade deals – by including all of Europe’s 500 million citizens in the process at once.
The origin behind European Integration into one EU lies in the tested (WWI, WWII) theory that national sovereignty leads to destructive forces. Europe integrated not because they liked each other but because they needed to control each other. By interweaving policy and trade between member countries, going to war with one another would become impossible.
However the member states wanted and still want to keep much of their national sovereignty and identity. This leads to the challenge as member states hinder the EU from becoming more powerful and accomplishing thier goals while at the same time EU citizens expect much from the EU.
Foreign policy is an immediate issue in Europe with the ring of neighboring countries that are sometimes led by instable governments. For example Turkey and the tension in the Middle East and Russia. The influx of immigration is a prime example of a cause that is best tackled by a joint European effort.
Our speaker emphasized the importance of Europe developing ties to countries outside of the West – nameley, China, Russia, and Arabic countries. He spoke of this “knowledge gap” of Europeans regarding these foreign nations. And in fact, very few scholars in Leuven and all of Belgium can read primary documents in Chinese, Russian, or Arabic. Our speaker advocated an “outside-in” approach to EU foreign policy analysis which mainly consists of looking beyond “Westphalia.”
For the budget-minded individual that I try to be, I decided to get a sandwich from Panos for lunch. But we paired it with a nice pot of tea in a nearby tea room which was quite nice. Ultimately I spent more on tea and pastry than I did lunch which is a balance I am quite content with.
Yay, tour through the city!
We started in the Grote Markt where the Church of St. Peter and the Town Hall face. Our tour guide (in a stunning turn of events our tour guide was in fact, NOT Toon), explained that the Town Hall is the oldest part of the city – from the 15th century. Much of Leuven was bombed and destroyed in World War I though it was rebuilt to its medieval grandeur as it was before the war (as Ypres and Middelburg did in WWII). Luckily, the town hall was spared.
Fountain of Lost Knowledge
Fonske, a statue from 1975, depicts a sculpture that many students have taken to be a depiction of a drinking student. However, to me it is clearly a depiction of the classic student condition: cram knowledge into one’s brain for a short period of time, and after the exam all of that knowledge flows out of you.
St. Peter’s Church
Just want to mention the beautiful St. Peter’s Church that seems huge to me but was originally designed to be much larger. Also, it looks interesting as the west facade of the church has many flat rooftops – a clear note that building on the church abruptly stopped. When the church ran out of funds it couldn’t keep building. This is similar to the Cathedral in Antwerp but more pronounced.
Our next stop was the Oude Markt, home of the “Longest bar in the war” because of the continuous line of bars through the square.
Here our tour guide explained to us the Catholic affiliation with KU Leuven. Even though KU Leuven is still technically affiliated with the Catholic Church, it’s connection to religion has diminished over the years especially after the secularization of the 60s and 70s. To reduce the religious connotation present in the name, the original name Katholieke Universiteit Leuven was shortened to KU Leuven.
As we continued, our tour guide also explained to us something of the college system in KU Leuven. Originally, the university did not provide food and housing so wealthy individuals established “Colleges” that students could apply to. These colleges fed and housed the students and provided a community for the students.
We continued on our way to the Beguinhof of Leuven. It is the largest Beguinage we have seen on this trip and differs from the others we have seen in that there is not simply one large empty space. There are many open spaces but with houses interspersed in the middle of the Beguinage. The oldest house is from the 15th century and still has remnants of its wooden structure – most of the Beguinage was built in the 15th or 16th century.
I also went to mass in the Beguinage church on Saturday night which was quite beautiful and the more I hear mass in Dutch the more I am able to decipher. The church is the official church for the university’s Catholic community (for those devout Catholics who still go to church).
Located on the Ladeuzeplein square, the library is from 1921 built as a gift from Americans to Leuven after the 17th century library was burned down by the Germans in WWI. The fire destroyed a large part of the culture of the medieval city but also the loss of irreplaceable historical books in the library. The act of violence prompted people around the world to come to the rescue of the University. The carillon in the tower originally had 48 bells, representing the member states of the USA at the time. The main bell that rings the hour is called the Liberty Bell of Leuven. Sadly, in May 1940 the Germans again destroyed the almost new University Library and it was reconstructed completely along the original blueprint.
Fun fact! The needle with the beetle that you can see on Ladeuzeplein is made by Jan Fabre, the same sculptor that made the statue in the Cathedral of Antwerp. I was surprised to see Jan Fabre is quite a famous artist in Belgium (we discussed him during our Gent dinner).
We climbed the tower of the the library and enjoyed a lovely view of the University. And, our guide gave us a unique and special carillon concert at the top of the tower! He played Beauty and the Beast and Scientist (by Coldplay) which was amazing. I particularly liked the Scientist and thought that it came out very well with bells.